State Tourism Funding: Steps in the Right Direction

| Apr 29, 2016
by Louise Stanton-Masten, Executive Director, Washington Tourism Alliance

Since its founding four years ago, the Washington Tourism Alliance (WTA) has focused on maintaining vital tourism initiatives on behalf of our members and the industry while also laying the groundwork for a transformative long-term, statewide tourism funding plan. 

As legislators continue to work toward a new budget and grapple with many competing priorities, the importance of tourism to our economy cannot be overstated. Annually, visitors to Washington State spend $19 billion, generate $1.1 billion in local and state tax revenues and support more than 163,400 jobs.

Robust worldwide travel, combined with the individual tourism marketing investments of the state’s major cities, port districts and private sector companies, have helped buoy our industry since the state tourism office closed. 

However, Washington remains the only state in the U.S. without a state-funded tourism office and our current returns cannot be assumed on a competitive landscape where Oregon, Idaho, California, British Columbia, Alaska are investing millions of dollars in destination marketing.

The WTA is grateful for some interim funding from the legislature for two years which went to enhance the tourism website, ExperienceWA.com, provide postage for mailing the Washington State Visitors’ Guide, fund the operation of a call center and support international tourism marketing. 

This biennium the WTA requested additional interim funding to support these efforts. Currently, $198,000 is in the House version of the 2015-17 supplemental budget for further enhancement of the website. As of press time for this article, the House and Senate continue budget negotiations and we remain hopeful that the two parties will agree to include this funding in the final state budget. It represents an important statement about the value of the tourism industry.

Compared to competing state tourism budgets, the WTA is an underdog. We’re doing a lot with a little. And as we continue to work toward a long-term, industry led and funded tourism marketing program, our current marketing and visitor service programs must continue. 

In addition to our destination website, the Washington State Visitors’ Guide (a partnership with the Washington Lodging Association and Saga City Media) is distributed to 375,000 visitors and potential visitors. Other vital programs keep Washington State in baseline domestic and international marketing arenas, LGBTQ destination promotion and working in tandem with statewide destination marketing organizations, port districts and private sector tourism businesses for the benefit of all. 

Yet another step was taken towards long term funding during this session. Four legislators – one from each caucus – wrote to their legislative leadership to indicate they will be working on a solution for long term tourism funding. These include Sens. Sharon Brown and Dean Takko and Reps. Cindy Ryu and Cary Condotta.

All are particularly well situated to help solve this problem. Sen. Brown is the chair of the Senate Trade and Economic Development Committee, the committee that will consider proposed legislation. Rep. Ryu is the chair of the House Community Development, Housing and Tribal Affairs Committee. This is the House committee that will consider proposed legislation. Sen. Takko represents one of the most tourism-dependent legislative districts and Rep. Condotta is the author of legislation offering a different funding mechanism for tourism.

In their letter, these members said “It is imperative that we find a solution so that Washington State will not be the only state in the nation without a robust statewide tourism marketing program. We see the impacts of closing the state tourism office in 2011, particularly in the rural areas of our state. We have so much to offer in Washington State that it is a tragedy we cannot let the rest of the nation and the world know why they should come visit.”

As soon as the legislature ends, these members will be working with WTA and representatives from its member organizations to forge a solution to the funding issue. 

We look forward to continuing to work with each of you as well as we work toward long-term, sustainable tourism funding in Washington State. GSBA member response to our calls to action were critical in getting our message to the legislature about the importance of supporting tourism funding both now and in the future.
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